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Cape Town - Opposition MPs tore into the country’s leadership in Parliament on Tuesday over the Marikana massacre.
They demanded to know who gave the police orders to shoot at striking miners and called for Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s resignation.
During a special sitting of Parliament, after last week’s tragedy in which 34 mineworkers were shot and killed by police, the DA, Cope, Azapo and the IFP all wanted to know who had authorised the use of live ammunition.
The vigorous debate was characterised by name-calling and frayed tempers.
Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu lost her cool and turned to tell heckling opposition MPs to “shut up”.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko fired the first salvo – she said Mthethwa, union leaders and the Lonmin CEO ought to quit.
“This tragedy could have and should have been prevented,” she said. “Its escalation speaks of a lack of top-level leadership and of ministerial accountability. The judicial commission must therefore be established immediately, with precise terms of reference. It must not at any point be downgraded to an internal inquiry.”
: “Whoever authorised the use of live ammunition must be held accountable.”
The commission must also carefully examine the minister’s conduct and role.
“At what point did he intervene? In most democracies, a crisis of this magnitude would have immediately precipitated the resignation of the minister, and, in many cases, the fall of the government.”
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota slammed the state for the militarisation of the police.
“Who waived the right to life that day and ordered that people be shot? Death is final and nothing can reverse it. This was something that was avoidable if we had stuck to the provisions of our constitution.”
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said it was ironic that the people responsible for extracting the country’s mineral wealth lived in “conditions of squalor. We call on Lonmin mine’s BEE partners to approach their partners in the UK to do something about the plight of their mineworkers.”
Holomisa said: “What we saw there is completely unacceptable, especially when considering the fact that some of Lonmin’s BEE partners have impeccable Struggle credentials.”
Azapo MP Jacob Dikobo wanted to know who had authorised the use of live ammunition.
The IFP’s Velaphi Ndlovu said the unions, Lonmin and the police were accountable.
Ndlovu said: “As the IFP, we find these three groups at fault.”
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said when more than 40 people died, it was a “massacre of unthinkable proportions, a catastrophe.
“The final question: who is to blame for what happened? I believe no roleplayer can be singled out. All the roleplayers share the guilt,” said Mulder.
Mthethwa said this was not the time for “cheap politicking. Most of the people have not been talking about the issue at hand.
“It’s important to remind each other that we are here in a week that was declared a week of mourning. This is not an opportunity for very cheap politicking. It’s a very serious matter in front of us.”
Mthethwa said the incident “should teach us, as members of this House and as a nation as a whole, to work doubly hard to prevent the repeat of such events”.
He said Section 17 of the constitution assured citizens of the right to, “peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petition”.
Mthethwa also placed part of the blame on “izangoma” who had “lied to the people”.
Shabangu said the tragic events “that reverberated in every corner of our country, shame us all”.
ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga said a study conducted by the Bench Marks Foundation had culminated in a report titled “Communities in the Platinum Minefields” and highlighted the many challenges facing mining communities like Marikana.
“Thus the Lonmin tragedy must be seen in the context that the mainstay of the mines was and is cheap labour, cheap black labour.”
ANC MP Annelize van Wyk said rubber bullets and water cannon had been used by the police before they resorted to live ammunition – contrary to statements made by Lekota.